The Second Edition of Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell’s Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies is long overdue. The book is a sweeping panorama of the wide variety of tools available to lawyers today in what is perhaps the most rapidly evolving area of web-based technologies.
The book has two distinct areas: “how to” accomplish varieties of collaboration, and arguments in favor of it. The latter element is probably even more important than the “how tos.” As they put it: “Technology choices are always more about culture than they are about technology.” They return to this theme repeatedly in an effort to address the issue of what I call “dysfunctional” law firms: where each individual senior partner is like a medieval duke in his own little castle on top of his own little hill. One of the most extreme examples I experienced (admittedly 10 years or more ago) was a client whose different partners insisted that any correspondence that went out under their name was in a different font. Law firms without some mechanism for determining what is good for the firm as a whole will always be at a disadvantage. As one of my clients said when reviewing the firm’s adoption of Worldox, “lawyers have to adapt to changes in the law all the time, why shouldn’t they also be able to adapt to new technologies?” But they don’t.
Kennedy and Mighell try to focus on success. “People respond to success” they say. This is true once various projects have started: the question is: how to get them started. One approach that has worked for me is to focus on pain avoidance. Instead of making claims that a particular technology will make life better and improve productivity, start by asking: “what are the five things you find most painful about your practice and wish you could fix/improve?” (This should be accompanied by “what are the five things you like best and don’t want to change?” since “fixing” one thing is not likely to work if it means abandoning a favorite workflow.) So rather than a frequently dismissed generic claim about somehow making life better, you can focus on alleviating a specific felt pain. I find this gives a very good rate of success.
Personally, I think their definition of “collaboration” is over-broad in an effort to argue that collaboration has always existed (yellow stickies as a form a collaboration?). However, there are definitely at least three areas where advanced collaborative tools have become available, and they do a good job in discussing these.
1) Client Portals - you need a way to efficiently and securely communicate documents and other information to your clients. Equally important, you need to be able to control that information. Law firms will attract and retain clients if they “become leaders and act on using collaboration tools rather than simply following and reacting to the demands of their clients.” There are a large number of tools available that they discuss extensively.
2) Collaboration on drafting and writing documents. The key issue here is how to keep control over the evolution of a document, whether through a system of simultaneous editing (via Google Docs or other), or commenting on drafts.
3) The email overload. Social media has made texting and IM widely acceptable – and as they note may become more widely used because it is the only way you can communicate with children and grand-children. The wide range of options here requires considerable experimentation and review, as well as consultation with clients as to what means they prefer. Slack is currently the “hot” application.
As the recent facebook fiasco has made clear, there is no security on most social media no matter what your “security settings” are. By and large it is safe to say that the most popular sites (facebook, dropbox) have the least security, which is a main reason for their popularity. Fine for marketing, not so good for confidential information. Firms are much better off setting up secure client portals rather than making do with substitutes where you have to believe that anything put up on the internet using those tools may eventually become public knowledge.